Finding Purpose in the Pain

If you haven’t figured it out already, life is not all rainbows and butterflies. It hurts. It stings. It changes constantly. It is unpredictable. As a psychotherapist, my job is to guide clients to find purpose in their pain, to put meaning towards their experiences, and utilize them as a catalyst for growth instead of allowing these experiences to defeat us.

Here are 3 reasons that pain is necessary for growth on your journey:

1) To Learn Healthy Coping Skills

A diamond does not start out as the rock we know it as. It begins its journey as a piece of coal, and with pressure and time it becomes the lustrous rock we lust over. Humans are similar in the sense that without painful experiences many life lessons cannot be learned. Think back to your childhood and adolescent years, you likely have many memories that stand out. Some may be happy, and some may be not so happy, but they have molded you into the individual you have become today. Whether you accept it or not, more adversity will come your way. You have learned a specific way to cope with this adversity. If you don’t like the way you are coping, it may be time to change your habits.

2) To Connect You to Others

As humans, we are social beings. We need human connection to thrive, to be successful, and to grow in our life. We are not isolated in our journey. As we navigate through painful experiences, we are able to empathize and understand others in a way we may not be able to do without personal experience. Great wisdom comes from becoming resilient to the ever changing tides of our lives. The ability to be able to connect to universal human feelings such as sadness, rage, loneliness, and fear is something unique to human beings. Our connection is what isolates us from the rest of the mammal population. Your pain will shape your human connection.

3) To Prove, “You Got This!”

Whether you like it or not, at this point you are winning in your life. That’s right! You’re winning! You may not feel like it, but you are attracting what you are bringing into your life! Really think about the mindset and goals you have for yourself. You may be holding yourself back from growing from your experiences due to your self-talk and inner chatter. If you tell yourself, “I just need to make it through today” then you will do exactly that, but if you change the script to saying “Today I will find purpose and meaning in the painful moments” you are more clear in your intention.

If you are going through life transitions and are interested in allowing a psychotherapist to help guide you to finding your purpose contact me at 405-323-1786 to see if I would be the right fit for you.

Wishing you purpose, passion, and positive mental health!

Michelle Smith

MS, RMHCI

Individual, Couple, & Family Psychotherapist

(405) 323-1786

The Importance of Mothers (and Other Parental Figures)

This weekend we celebrated all the hard-working, dedicated, and loving mothers and mother figures for Mother’s Day. This week’s blog post is dedicated to all the wonderful mothers (and parental figures) out there!

Harry Harlow, a psychologist in the 1960’s understood the importance of parental figures to the social-emotional development of humans. Prior to his study with monkeys, many people believed babies and children depended on their mother’s due to their need for a food source and survival.

Harlow thought different, he felt the comfort provided by caretakers was also a factor to development, and he was right!

Harlow studied the effect of monkeys on two different types of “mother figures”. One “mother figure” made of wire only had the monkey food, the other had no monkey food but was covered in a comforting terry cloth. Harlow was fascinated when he noticed the monkeys would spend the majority of time with the terry cloth mother, running only to the wire mother just long enough to fill up on milk. Harlow founded the importance of love, compassion, and validation to our development thanks to this intriguing psychological study.

For humans, the same is true. It has been proven time and time again that children with secure attachments to their parental figures have the best chances at healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. Love, encouragement, and compassion given by parental figures is vital to effective growth and sends the message that our children can trust in us to meet their needs.

A recent study even linked parent-child communication to children’s successes. The study founded that quality conversations were a key factor in successful development. These imperative interactions foster connectedness to our families. Warm and positive communication with purpose help children more accurately understand family values, morals, appropriate communication skills, and increases confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re having trouble finding time to have conversations with your child, take the car ride to and from school or doctor’s appointments as an opportunity. Ask your child or teen open ended questions to get them talking about their feelings and day. Instead of “What did you do at school today?” Try something like “What was your favorite part of your day?” This question warrants a little more pondering and also cannot be answered with the overused “It was good, Mom!”. Not only will it help foster your child’s development, but it will increase the quality of your parent-child relationship and encourage healthy relationships in your child’s future.

Whether you are a mother, father, or parental figure you are appreciated! No one works longer, more strenuous hours, or a more important job than parents!

If you or someone you know is struggling with parent-child communication, self-care and work/life balance, or other mental health issues and would like to set up an appointment for psychotherapy please contact Michelle Smith, RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a FREE 15 phone consultation!

Mental Health Awareness Month

May marks mental health awareness month, a time to reflect and honor the 43.8 million people with mental illnesses around the globe. Many of these unsung heroes are living among us without our awareness. Family, friends, coworkers, and people you know are wearing invisible scars many silently suffering in their day to day lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 20 percent, or about 1 in 5 children, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. With a large number of the population diagnosed with mental health disorders, there is still many barriers to effective care such as the stigma & shame associated with receiving mental health services.

Equality Between Physical and Mental Wellness

If you found out someone you love had been diagnosed with a physical illness such as diabetes, there would be no hesitation to encourage that person to receive the utmost care necessary to return to normal functioning. Unfortunately, many people do not feel the same way about mental illness. Often clients are told by loved ones to “just handle it” or “stop thinking about it”. It’s important for people to know mental illness cannot just “be handled” by the client on their own accords. Just like a patient with diabetes utilizes a number of doctors and specialists, people with mental illnesses are recommended to utilize mental health professionals, psychiatrists, and therapists to manage symptoms and return to a normal level of functioning. Changing the perspective can help bring empathy, and also encouraged clients to get the help they need and deserve.

When Do I Know I Need Help?

Another side effect of the stigma of mental health is that many clients wait too long to be seen by professionals. As a general rule, if you notice your mood, affect, and behaviors change to a point where functioning in any area your life is compromised (such as at work, relationships, social activities) and the symptoms have persisted consistently for a duration of two weeks it is time to see a professional to explore further. Some clients suffer with severe symptoms for years in silence due to the shame associated with their mental health. If your concerned about a change in your mental health, contact a professional for a screening, you won’t regret taking the time to care for yourself. After all, there is no health without mental health.

Resilience

I am consistently amazed at the resilience, determination, and stamina of my clients. I chose this field because as a young professional I was eager to help people who needed it. In reality, my clients have taught me lessons in resilience. I have personally witnessed the willpower and determination of my clients to work towards creating a thriving and successful life. They motivate me to be the best clinician I possibly can, each and every day.

Just like symptoms of a chronic illness are managed over time, mental illness is a process of recovery. Clients wok to manage symptoms and have good and bad days during the process.

If you or someone you love is suffering in silence with mental illness I would love to chat with you to discuss supporting you on your journey towards recovery. Contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a free phone consultation

Benefits of Therapy for Children During the Summer

The countdown is on! Days are getting longer, sun is getting warmer, and the last school bell is right around the corner (35 days away if your counting!).

For many children, summertime is a break with less responsibilities, more freedom, and less stress. Due to increased time for free play, promoting independence, and strengthening interpersonal relationships it may be a great time to start thinking about taking some of the availability in schedule to address certain symptoms you may have noticed your child demonstrating during the school year.

Before the School Year Ends

Take time to schedule parent-teacher conferences, follow up with guidance counselors, 504 contacts, and coaches to get a clear picture on how your child has adjusted throughout the school year. It is unlikely children will “grow” out of certain mood, impulse, behavior, or social struggles in a matter of months without support. In my clinical experience, abatement of school year stressors are likely to return, in more severe forms during the next school year if not addressed.

Availability to Focus on Home Based Challenges

If your child or teen struggles with behavior problems at home and in school, summer can be a great opportunity to hone in on improving skills in the home environment. Therapists can work with your child and family on identifying mood disturbances, increasing problem solving skills, planning and organization, and increasing positive communication in the family system. During the school year hustle and grind, it can be easy to allow these important goals fall to the wayside. Summer is a great time to tune up our emotional growth inside the family system (where change is most likely to stick!)

Structure

Change in routine can be wonderful, but also can cause uncertainty in the lives of school aged children and teens who are hardwired to schedules. Adding weekly therapy appointments provides routine and structure to the laid back feel of the summertime. Keeping children on consistent schedules has been proven to increase sense of security, positive self-image, and control in numerous environments.

Increase Your Family Tool Bank

Therapy provides an opportunity to learn and develop healthy coping strategies in a safe environment, but the benefits extend past changes in your teen or child. By engaging in this collaborative effort you are letting your child know the family is working to improve together, and it is a priority to the family to be the best you can! Benefits such as improved communication, reflection of feelings, and increased emotional connection are only some of the wonderful outcomes of investing in you and your child’s mental and emotional health this summer!

For more information on booking an appointment or consultation for your child, teen, or family contact Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

405-323-1786

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety. We all know the feeling. An all-encompassing emotional response to a real or perceived threat. Right now with FSA testing happening in school districts across the state, anxiety levels are sky-rocketed for students, parents, and teachers alike. During times of increased stress you may notice changes in your child’s behavior such as irritability, rigidity, outbursts, and attempting to gain control of the world around them. Although anxiety is a normal emotional response, it can become detrimental especially if ruminating thoughts regarding what “might” happen take over.

During high emotional times such as state testing, you may notice your own anxiety increasing more than normal. Anxiety, like many emotions, is contagious and just being in a setting with high anxiety can increase another’s feelings of anxiety. So how can parents “weather the storm” of testing anxiety season and support and also encourage our students to be the best they can be?

Encourage and Validate

Parents, teachers, and adults sometimes struggle to validate children who are dealing with anxiety because it may not make any rational sense. For instance, maybe you have an honor role student who consistently performs well on standardized tests; however, they are feeling an overwhelming sense of dread the morning of the test. You may feel challenged to validate your child without agreeing or dismissing their feelings. Validate and encourage your child or teen’s feelings anyways, note how difficult it must be to feel so out of control at times. Use statements like these below:

“It makes sense that you are nervous about your test, and I know you will do your best and make it through anyways!”

“I can tell you are worried about the test coming up, especially because you have been picking your nails more lately. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about it?”

When validating remember anxiety feels REAL whether it is a perceived or imaginable threat. Try to take a trip down memory lane to your middle school or high school years and connect to your experience with anxiety. Allow your child to vent if necessary, and reward them for taking steps towards their future.

Model Healthy Coping Strategies

The history of anxiety comes from our caveman ancestors who were driven by fear to escape life threatening situations such as being chased by a bear. In 2018, anxiety comes from worry thoughts that trigger the same “fight or flight response”. The problem comes when there is nothing to run away from, then you or your child can be left with symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heartbeat, sweating, or trembling. You can help encourage your teen to begin utilizing healthy coping strategies in times without high emotion, so it is easier for them to practice the skills during anxiety.

Breathing Exercises

Teaching simple 4 count breathing in through the nose, and out through the nose is a wonderful tool to teach children at a young age. When our mind is on overdrive, we can calm the body which sends a message to calm the mind. Deep breathing helps bring our body to a relaxed state and out of the “fight or flight” response. Bring your teen or child to a free community yoga or meditation class, make a date of it to tune in and focus on your breathe.

Get Into Logical Mind

Many times when anxiety becomes paralyzing, we can make a shift in mood by engaging our logical mind, or the part of the mind that focuses on logic versus emotion. To engage this part of the brain help your child focus on a number game, count backwards, or engage in a writing exercise. This takes attention off the emotion and brings the body back to an equilibrium state. Sudoku, meditative coloring, even math problems can help in times of intense emotion. Engage with your child and model these behaviors for most effective practices.

Acceptance

Although your child or teens emotions may be more intense in the next couple weeks than normal, it’s important to remember anxiety is a part of life that your child can and will learn to manage to live a fulfilled life.

It may be easier to minimize or dismiss your child’s anxiety, taking the time to acknowledge it may be the difference between learning how to cope and manage these feelings or burning out. And remember… testing season will pass!

 

For more information on anxiety, mental health services for your child or teen, or psychoeducation for families contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI and Middle School Guidance Counselor at 405-323-1786 for a consultation.